Dorfromantik Review – Zen/10 Experience

I feel like lately there has been a deluge of Zen games. You know the type. Games that eschew traditional design patterns built around completing challenges. Instead, these releases hone in on a compelling gameplay loop that allows players to zone out while passively engaging with other media, or chatting with a friend. Unpacking, Euro Truck Simulator, and Viscera Cleanup Detail are a few that spring to my mind, but I’m sure most folks could tell you their favourites if asked. With open ended objectives, players are given as much time as they need to see these games through, allowing for a truly relaxing experience.

Unfortunately, for as much as I’ve heard about how enjoyable these games can be, I’ve not had much luck with them. Every time I try to play one I feel a lump well up in the pit of my stomach as I think about how much work needs to be done. As you can imagine, that stresses me out. So, I’ll start trying to do everything as quickly as possible, but that causes me even more stress. By the time it’s all said and done, I look akin to some sort of tweaked out forest goblin, rather than a tranquil monk experiencing nirvana. These supposed Zen experiences end up being anxiety inducing nightmares for me.

So, when I finally found a Zen game that actually gelled with me I thought I was dreaming. At last! I can enjoy the chilled out vibes everyone else experiences. It is therefore with a degree of excitement that I present both a game which gave me many stress-free sessions, and one of the best games of 2022: Dorfromantik. Yes, that is seriously what it’s called. You say it like dwarf-romantic. Odd name aside, it is one of the most satisfying, and relaxing puzzlers I’ve played in a good long while, and is absolutely worth your time to check out.

What is a Dorfromantik though? For the board game enthusiasts among you, it’s a lot like Carcassonne. For the rest of you: it’s a game where players are given a stack of random hexagonal tiles that they place adjacent to one another. Each of the six sides ends in a biome, and players are awarded points for matching these biomes with neighbouring tiles of the same type. Quick example: if you have a tile that ends in a forest and connect it with another forest then you get more points compared to if you connected it to a village, or lake. It’s a relatively simple concept that can be understood within seconds of starting your first game.

Despite the initial simplicity, Dorfromantik hides a bit of depth. Players don’t just earn points by placing tiles: they also earn additional tiles. Every time a tile is matched perfectly on all 6 sides, an additional tile is added to the player’s stack. Scoring perfect tiles leads to a higher score, so players will naturally start planning ahead leaving gaps throughout their board awaiting the perfect pieces to manifest. What really gets me is how the tiles pop and play a jingle every time they match all of their neighbours. It’s just so satisfying, further encouraging players to seek those perfect placements.

Scoring plenty of perfects may be your focus, but Dorfromantik doesn’t want players to get too stressed out by it. As such, they’re given several supplementary goals throughout their time playing. These take the form of quests that ask for a set number of tiles of a specific type to be connected before rewarding the player with several additional tiles. As an example, players could be asked to connect 50 houses, so they’ll need to link up village tiles until they amass a township of 50 or more properties. These goals are often easier, and more immediately rewarding so they’ll dominate the early game until perfect placements pop off persistently in the later game.

If quests and scores don’t tickle your fancy, there is also a creative mode. Here players are provided an infinite deck to play however they see fit. The same mechanisms that drive the core of Dorfromantik are present, but quests are absent as they’re no longer needed to help stack the deck. Players can also opt to transition over from the standard mode to the creative mode once they run out of tiles, provided they want to continue playing the same board. Personally, I prefer the standard mode, but creative offers a similar sort of experience with absolutely zero mechanisms to stress the player out.

All said, do I recommend Dorfromantik? Yes. Absolutely. The simple premise of placing hexagonal tiles to match their neighbour is so easily understood, but immensely satisfying. There’s even a splash of hidden depth in the experience for players that want to plan ahead to pull off crazy wombo-combos of perfect tile placements. Dorfromantik is an easy game to recommend, and one of 2022’s finest. It’s well worth your while to check it out, especially if you’re in the market for a chilled out puzzler that’ll let you achieve Zen-like nirvana.

8 thoughts on “Dorfromantik Review – Zen/10 Experience

  1. I played Dorfromantik a bit after picking it up in the sale (although it may not actually have even been *on* sale, lol).

    I enjoyed it for what it was, but it didn’t quite grip me like it seems to have you. So far as these more zen-like games go, my goto games (and highly recommended to try, if haven’t already!) are the ‘Mini’ games, Mini Metro being the older one and Mini Motorways being the more recent release.

    They’re both still fantastic though. I recently found ‘All Quiet Roads’, which takes the ideas of Mini Metro and expands them out fairly significantly. For all that, though, so far, I’m not quite as enamoured with it as I am with the much more minimalistic Mini games it takes so much inspiration from.

    They can get a little stressful at the end of round if you’re particularly shooting for a high score — but I’d equate that with finally running low on tiles in Dorfromantik, so not entirely dissimilar. Just some ideas on something else to try if wanting to poke a little more into the genre in any case!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the suggestion – I actually have played both Mini games (to completion), but it seems I had a similar experience to the one you described with Dorfromantik lol

      They were fun for what they were, but they never exactly clicked for me like they seemed to for so many others. Well, that and every single time I got to the “mid-point” of a motorways map I’d redesign my entire roadway to be more efficient based on the buildings that had popped up. That was always super tedious, but a requirement to hit the upper echelon of the scoreboard. It also had the added benefit of beating all of Mir’s highscores which drove her a little batty. 😛

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Haha! What platform did you play on? Despite having you there as a friend, I don’t seem to see your scores on Steam versions.

        On the other hand… I’m not sure I want to… ;D

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I got Metro as part of one of those bundles so it’s just DRM free on my system, while motorways is on Mir’s account. So in both cases I don’t know that my scores would be easy to track lol

          Liked by 2 people

  2. I didn’t know about this game before reading your review. I certainly wouldn’t have thought a game named “Dorfromantik” would be some kind of peaceful town/environment building game — I’m not even sure what that name would fit with. But this looks like a nice one. I’ve been stressed as all hell lately and I might need a game like this to pick me up.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Huzzah. Indie hipster cred restored!

      I’d been humming and hawing about reviewing the game for a while now, but I surmised that many people are likely in the same boat you were. Hell – I hadn’t even heard of the game until after it released and it spent over a year in Early Access. So it seemed like a worthy one to shine a spotlight on, especially because of how damn good it is. Not sure if I’ve convinced you to try it, but if I have I hope you enjoy it.

      Liked by 2 people

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